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Printer Privacy Government Your Rights Online

FOIA Request Shows Which Printer Companies Cooperated With US Government 355

New submitter Dave_Minsky writes "The U.S. Secret Service responded to a FOIA request on Monday that reveals the names of the printer companies that cooperate with the government to identify and track potential counterfeiters. The Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed in 2005 that the U.S. Secret Service was in cahoots with selected laser printer companies to identify and track printer paper using tiny microscopic dots encoded into the paper. The tiny, yellow dots — less than a millimeter each — are printed in a pattern over each page and are only viewable with a blue light, a magnifying glass or a microscope. The pattern of dots is encodes identifiable information including printer model, and time and location where the document was printed." Easy enough to avoid government dots; just don't buy printers from Canon, Brother, Casio, HP, Konica, Minolta, Mita, Ricoh, Sharp, or Xerox.
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FOIA Request Shows Which Printer Companies Cooperated With US Government

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  • by ( 660144 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:24AM (#39084853) Homepage

    The are LOTS of flaws in your agument. Prehaps the easiest to explain is what happens if the is a revolution in your country and previous 'free-expression' suddenly lands you in jail?


  • by YttriumOxide ( 837412 ) <yttriumox@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:31AM (#39084887) Homepage Journal

    The are LOTS of flaws in your agument. Prehaps the easiest to explain is what happens if the is a revolution in your country and previous 'free-expression' suddenly lands you in jail?

    Let's imagine I have a home printer that prints these microdots. I use it for printing birthday cards, kids' homework, letters to my bank, and other miscellany. If there's a revolution and any of these things become illegal, I've got bigger problems than being tracked by my printer.

    As a further note, right now there's no way to trace that serial number to me. Generally speaking, tracing a serial number will get it to the store that sold it to me and not much further. For larger office devices (the stuff I work with in my day job) there's no way a home user would have it, but we could track it to the end user (customer) in theory. That however would only give us the company, not the individual user (unless that company themselves had a tracking system for their users, and then how is that OUR fault?)

    Yeh, I'd prefer it if these microdots didn't exist, but I've yet to see a convincing argument of their actual danger.

  • Defective by design (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fibonacci8 ( 260615 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @10:15AM (#39085115)
    This probably helps explain why so many customers have brought printers to me complaining of the defect where B&W print jobs do not print when the color cartidge gets low.
  • by YttriumOxide ( 837412 ) <yttriumox@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @11:12AM (#39085463) Homepage Journal

    And for all we know there is already a database out there that just links yellow dots to names and it only takes a few calls to know who leaked the incriminating data.

    If there was, the following conversation would not have taken place:

    • My phone rings...
    • Me: Hello, Yttrium Oxide* speaking (not my real name)
    • Person: Hi, this is Joe Bloggs* from Government Security Agency* (not real name or agency)
    • Person: Are you the person to talk to about determining who a device was sent to by its microdot pattern?
    • Me: Hmmm, sorry, not my area. You seem to have been transferred to the wrong department. I'll transfer you to the right person.

    That's only happened once, around 6 or 7 years ago. Same current employer, different country. It may be that such a database exists in the US for example, but I've never worked there so couldn't say. It definitely doesn't exist in Australia where I used to work otherwise they wouldn't have called asking that question.

  • by YttriumOxide ( 837412 ) <yttriumox@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @11:20AM (#39085509) Homepage Journal

    Do me a favor.

    Go down to the guys in the driver dept, and hand out a few swift kicks to the balls.

    Oh, I would SO love to... Sadly, the main driver devs are sitting in Japan and our guys here in Europe only do customisations and localisation - they don't deserve the kick.

    On the plus side, if you're located in Europe and have a company (even just a one-person company) with a non-"freemail" email address, sign up (for free, but with NDA agreement) to our Developer Support Portal [] and you can get all our PDL (PJL, PCL, PS) specs to make your own driver. Wait a few months and there may be some even cooler stuff there for doing your own drivers much more easily (sorry, can't confirm that definitely right now).

    Any questions, post on the forums there and I'll answer as best I can! (or pay for a developer support contract and get guaranteed full technical answers to questions as well as a lot more cool resources)

  • An Old Dispute (Score:1, Interesting)

    by glorybe ( 946151 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @12:02PM (#39085759)
    I took a lot of crap when I mentioned several years ago that some sort of GPS like circuits existed within printers and probably many computers as well. But this article confirms it. If a printer gives its location it must know its location. Sometimes as in the Iraq war certain printers simply existing was enough to get a smart bomb delivered suddenly. The reason was that some printers and computers are expensive and not normally purchased except by governments or powerful companies. Running a major company or any governmental office was enough to earn that smart bomb. That goes back to Desert Storm and is not a recent development. Obviously if you go to a store and pay cash for a printer the store nor the manufacturer does not have your address unless the device can get the information on its own. I predict that some operating systems and also some encryption software is government sponsored in such a way that they have a handy back door into everything done on a PC.
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @12:02PM (#39085765) Homepage

    As a further note, right now there's no way to trace that serial number to me.

    They can identify that two pages both came from the same printer. Which includes sneaking into your house when you're not around and printing a test page. Or not sneaking in, if they already suspect you enough.

    Paranoid much? Seriously, they've been doing that with handwriting and typewriters since, roughly forever. Then there's any fingerprints or DNA you might leave on the paper to consider too. And your license plate number when they surveil the parking lot of the post office where the documents were mailed from. And checking your hard drive for the digital files, and your trash for draft copies, and your email for related writings, and your bookcase/ereader for related reading. Doing textual analysis on emails and other postings on the internet... Etc... etc...
    Consider that the Unabomber was caught because his brother recognized his writing style. The Lindbergh kidnapper by comparing handwriting. Albert Fish because he used a unique paper... (Huh, Wikipedia to the rescue again - they have an entire article [] on this, found while researching cases.)
    Seriously, acting like this represents some unique threat or certain nail in your coffin where there is no other is simply ludicrous.

  • Re:lol (Score:2, Interesting)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @01:12PM (#39086145)

    Who would want to counterfeit american money?

    I've lost track, is Glenn Beck still predicting hyperinflation any day now?

    Actually I shouldn't be too glib about inflation because I am somewhat worried about it. But so far the extra dollars created by the Fed have mainly just offset the dollars that vanished when Wall Street companies pulled back on extending loans back and forth to each other. True or false?

  • Re:lol (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mrclisdue ( 1321513 ) * on Saturday February 18, 2012 @01:23PM (#39086229)

    If we're going to test burnable human waste, why not use the whole of a politician, rather than just his excrement?


  • Re:lol (Score:5, Interesting)

    by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @01:49PM (#39086383) Homepage
    I haven't seen any actual reports on inflation, but I have been paying attention to prices, and I'd say it's definitely happening. Just a few examples, off the top of my head: I got my pilot's license in 1991 -- the same Cessna 152 I learned to fly in at $36 per hour now costs $120 per hour to rent; around that same time, I used to fill up my car for ~$1/gallon but it's $3.50 per gallon now; I'm into archery, and the arrows I used to buy for $4 each now cost more like $10 each; and houses in my city have gone from ~$150K to ~$300K. That's 200-300% inflation in 20 years. I know, I know, "anecdote, data, etc." but just about the only thing I can think of where prices have decreased is technology -- computers, hard drives, network gear, cell phones, etc.
  • Re:lol (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @02:44PM (#39086749)

    China has their currency pegged to ours (other countries too, but China is the one that matters).

    That means we sort of share a monetary policy. We print money, it causes inflation in China as they are forced to also print money to maintain the peg.

    If China lets their currency float then we see the pent up inflation hit us as all their products double in price (and their bank reserves of US bonds halve in value). Shock to both economies. Double plus ungood.

    But the peg needs to move faster. Eventual float.

    My only question: Where is the arbitrage opportunity?

  • by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @02:57PM (#39086855) Journal
    Hes fucking right. The lassez-faire attitude about this on slashdot is pretty disgusting. This level of collusion between the govt and business to stop counterfeiting (which is not worth spying on every printer) is an abomination and lays the groundwork for much worse. Im sorry you dont have the imagination to see the end game to this.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson